Because children love to imitate their parents, a friend of mine bought her two-year-old a play phone. And because children like to imitate their parents, she recently overheard her daughter’s conversation: Pushing her doll carriage, with her phone held up to her ear, this toddler muttered to her imaginary friend, "They're just impossible!"

That was a real wake-up call (no pun intended) for my friend. Not only was her daughter listening carefully to every word she said, she definitely heard the ones that were about her and her younger brother.

And what message was she internalizing?

Thank God, this was relatively minor, and thanks to my friend's unintentional eavesdropping, nipped in the bud.

But it should give us all pause. If someone we cared about – our children, parents, friends, students – someone who we admired or who respected us heard our phone calls, what would they actually hear? And what would they think? Are we speaking nicely about others? Are we complaining about our spouses or our children? Are we speaking in a refined way, using words we're proud to say aloud and language befitting how we think of ourselves, our aspirational self anyway?

It's not so easy to be on top of everything we say. But it's not just “little pitchers" that have “big ears." The Almighty also hears everything we say. He cuts us a lot of slack and is more forgiving (or less impressionable) than our toddlers. But that's no excuse. Our words are not falling into empty air. They make an impact on our world and on others.

But mostly they make an impact on us. Hearing our children regurgitate our words is not just an important parenting lesson. It's a sober reminder that the Almighty is listening as well, as Ethics of Our Fathers reminds us, there is an "Ear that hears".

I'm glad I never overheard my children on their toy phones. I think I'm going to make sure it's one toy I never give to my grandkids!